Cincinnati Reds: Jay Bruce Fulfilling 2011 Expectations
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The Cincinnati Reds are currently in the middle of a six-game losing streak due in large part to a faltering pitching staff. The offense still ranks second in baseball in runs and home runs, eighth in wRC+, tied for seventh in ISO and fifth in wOBA, which has kept the club two games above .500 and tied for second in the NL Central.
After struggling mightily in April, Jay Bruce, not 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto, leads the Reds in home runs (12), RBI (30) and ISO (.253). Bruce's slash line sits at .282/.349/.535, and he has posted an above-average .383 wOBA and 140 wRC+.
Bruce came into the 2011 season with enormous expectations from fans, baseball insiders and fantasy owners alike. Bill James projected that Bruce would hit 31 home runs with a .281/.352/.517 line, and I felt that he could surpass those projections.
The first two months of Bruce's season have proved supporters correct, and he should be considered one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. His 2011 ISO, wOBA and wRC+ all are career highs, and he has improved his strikeout rate from 26.7 percent to 23.5 percent (a direct result of his improved contact rate).
Bruce's BABIP of .303 does not suggest that his batting average will regress. The drop in his line-drive rate from 20.1 percent to 11.5 percent and increase in his fly-ball rate from 43.7 percent to 52.7 percent suggest that Bruce is consciously trying to hit for more power this season. His 2011 HR/FB ratio of 17.4 percent is in line with his career rate, so Bruce should hit for 35 home runs if he continues to hit fly balls at this rate.
In addition to his offensive success, Bruce might be the best defensive right fielder in all of baseball. His 28.4 UZR rating is the highest among all right fielders since 2009, and it is the fifth-highest among all outfielders during that same span.
At 24 years old, Bruce remains one of the most impressive young talents in the game. He might be overshadowed in Cincinnati and the rest of the country by Joey Votto, but his 7.0 WAR is higher than Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun and Jayson Werth's since 2010. Bruce has proved that he is one of the few young talents to live up to the hype, and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
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